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frustrated computer user

Making PDF Files
With Crop Marks & Bleeds for Commercial Printing

If you want to save yourself (and you printing company) a lot of hassles, the best way to supply your artwork is in PDF format. Properly made, a PDF file avoids three of the most frustrating aspects of sending your art file to be printed by a commercial printing company – or anyone else for that matter.

PDF stands for “Portable Document Format.” The PDF file format was created for that reason: (dependable) file sharing. PDF is digital file format that, when opened on another computer, will view exactly the same as did on the author's computer.

The Problems with Native Art FIles

There are many different programs that people choose to create their art designs. Some use professional design software (such as Adobe Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop). Others use non-professional programs (such as Microsoft Word, Publisher, etc.). Even the professional software has several disadvantages when it come to sending to another computer.

First, before sending the native art, all of the images your used in your art must be or embedded (not linked) in your document, or gathered into a folder and supplied. Additionally, you must also gather and supply all of the type fonts that you used in the document, as the receiver may not have them all. Although a knowledgeble grahic designer knows how to overcome these obstacles, these are not the only issues in file sharing.

There are also potential compatability problems unless both you and the receiver have the same version of the design program. Additionally, file sizes can be very large when sending the original native art files. You may not be able to send them by email, and will need to transfer them thru by FTP or a file-sharing site, such as DropBox.

Advantages of PDF Files

    PDF Icon
  1. Providing a PDF of your artwork to your printing company solves the headaches…
  2. The fonts and images are embedded into the document (no need to gather them up to provide to the printer)
  3. PDF's display and print the same on all computers (PDF is an abbreviation for Portable Document Format)
  4. The file sizes of a PDF are much smaller than their native art files (usually small enough to email)

NOTE: to make a proper camera-ready PDF, the art must have correct bleed and margin and the document size set to the final trim dimensions of the printed piece (example, a business card is 3.5″ x 2″). All professional design programs should provide some built-in method to convert your art to a PDF file. Depending of what program (and version) you are using, your dialogue boxes may be somewhat different than those shown in the tutorial, but you should be able to find and follow the example settings.

PDF Dialog Box Locations
There are three methods to creating PDF files. Your particular software may be capable of one, two, or all three:

FILE > SAVE AS            FILE > EXPORT             FILE > PRINT

Save As dialog boxIn the SAVE AS or EXPORT menus simply look for PDF as one of the menu options among the format options.

PDF printer setup For the FILE > PRINT option with the “General” tab selected, look in the list of available print devices
(such as PDF or PostScript file)

FILE  >  Save As  and the  File  >  Export
PDF Creation Methods

press quality PDF

* The PDF creation dialog boxes for either one of these
two methods have the same general menu choices

Choose either FILE > SAVE AS or FILE > EXPORT from the top menu.

The first step is to determine the quality of the PDF. In the General tab (highlighted in blue), there are various compression level settings
(in Adobe software called the Adobe PDF Preset)

Choose “Press Quality” when making a PDF for professional printing. DO NOT choose “High Quality Print”, as that setting is for your desktop printer (the quality level is too low for commercial printing).

You may have noticed there is a preset option in the list to the right called “Press Quality +” that is not available in your job options list. It is a custom Adobe PDF setting used at Summit Printing for extra high-quality PDF files (since many of our products print at photo-quality 500 dpi).
If you would like to install it, we have provided it for download at no charge.

About PDF Compression Settings: one of the most amazing features of PDF files is how file sizes are greatly reduced without any loss of quality. This is especially true when printing a PostScript file and using the Acrobat Distiller to create the PDF.

NOTE: the type of PDF you make should always depend upon it's intended use. If a PDF will only be viewed on a monitor, making it press-quality might increase its file size ten-fold without making it appear any better when viewed on a computer monitor. Also, keep mind that making extra-high resolution PDF's will NOT result in a higher resolution printing job if it exceeds the plate, blanket and machinery capability of the printing press that it is going to print on.

As long as your document size and bleed zones are correctly set up there is only one more step.
Select the "Marks and Bleeds" tab (highlighted in blue).
      1)  Check the Crop Marks Box in the Marks section (leave the rest unchecked).
      2)  In the Bleed and Slug section un-check Use Document Bleed Settings and set all four sides to 0.125 in

printers marks and bleeds proper bleed finished camera ready PDF file

If the document was properly setup and the above instructions followed exactly, the resulting PDF should look like the “Final PDF File Example” above. The corner crop marks define to the printing company precisely where the document should cut. Extending PAST the trim marks is the additional background bleed area needed to ensure there will be no white cracking (unprinted paper) on the edges when trimmed out.

It is unlikely that any printing company will want you to print any of the other printer's marks on your artwork. Printing companies put on their own printer's marks where THEY want them during the prepress process, and may find it annoying and perhaps even need to remove any color bars, registration marks or bleed marks placed on your art.

File > Print
Printing a PostScript and Distilling to PDF

The best method for creating a flattened, well compressed, production-quality PDF art file starts by printing a PostScript file. Then the PDF file is created using the Adobe Distiller (with a press-quality or custom job option setting selected).

To perform this method with full control of the dialog box setting, however, requires the Adobe PostScript engine (show below under PPD as Adobe PDF 9.0). Adobe stopped installing it in the last few versions of the Adobe Creative Suite, deeming it unnecessary (because of the other two methods shown above), so you may need to download and install the PPD manually to use this method.

print to file
Choose File > Print from the top menu. Select the Marks and Bleed tab.

In the Printer selector choose PDF
In the PPD Selector, Choose Adobe PDF

In the Marks section,
check “Trim Marks”
(some dialogues say “Crop Marks”)

In the Bleed section, un-check
“Use Document Bleed Settings.”

Set the bleed to 0.125″ on all four sides.
Note: if the units are not in inches,
it can be changed in the preferences section.

PDF set up dialog

The settings for the next step may be located in one of two different locations: either the General or Setup tabs.

Notice the document preview window in the lower left corner. If your document is not right-side-up (or however you want your final art file) use the Orientation selector to rotate it.

Finally, change the "Paper Size” selection to custom. Paper size must be selected LAST or your bleed and crop marks would not show up in your PDF file.

Finishing your PDF

Depending on your software, there may not be any more important selections to make, and you are ready to save your PostScript file. Once you have your finished PostScript file, open the Adobe Distiller and choose the Press-Quality job option and select your PostScript file to be processed into your final PDF print production art file.

Additional PDF Options

Some programs may have additional options allowing more control over the PostScript / PDF job options. The screen-shots below are from the Adobe Illustrator print to PostScript file job options:

printer resolution

Some programs, such as Adobe Illustrator, may have an option to specify
the “Printer Resolution”

Select the Output tab,

Most printing presses print at 150-175 lpi (lines per inch), so 175 should be an adequate in most cases.

Note: any resolution setting beyond what the printing press is even capable of producing will not yield better quality printing, only a much bigger PDF.

Much of the full color printing items at Summit Printing print at 250 lpi, so in some cases you might want to select the highest option available: 200 lpi.

NOTE: to check for proper color separations, such as for a 2-color print job using Pantone Solid Colors, you can select “Separations” in the Mode setting to make sure your inks are properly designated (such as no CMYK colors). If printing in CMYK, and you notice in the ink options that an unintended solid color was used you can check the “convert all spot colors to process” box in the output section to convert all inks to CMYK (watch for color shifting).


raster effects

Some programs, such as Adobe Illustrator, may display your “raster effects resolution that control the quality of drop shadows and other special effects that were applied in their software.

Select the Graphics tab

Make sure a minimum of 300 DPI is specified. Illustrator allows a custom setting, which we normally rez-up the to 450 dpi for CMYK documents.

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